10 September 1779
Letter 41. Mary Hays to John Eccles, Friday, 10 September 1779.1
You paint love in its most bewitching colors (shall I add) in such colors as a lover ought to paint it – but if the rose has sweetness, is it not also surrounded by piercing thorns? – so love though perhaps the most pleasing, is at the same time the most painful passion that can possess the human breast – the affections being engaged to any degree will cause a thousand anxieties, and disquietudes, which [f. 158] keep the soul in perpetual agitations, and consequently destroys its peace, even where fortune smiles, and the prospects appear the most favorable. –
“Oh love! how are thy passions, sweetest moments
Thus ever cross’d, thus vex’d with disappointments.
Now pride, now fickleness, fantastick quarrels,
And sullen coldness, gives us pains by turns;
Malicious meddling chance is ever busy
To bring us fears, disquiets, and delays.”2
Few minds are capable of love, they feel passion, they feel esteem, they even feel that mixture of both which is the best counterfeit of love! – but if that vivifying fire, that lively tenderness which makes us forget ourselves when the interest, the happiness, the honor of them we love is concerned; that tenderness which renders the beloved object all we see in the creation,2 few have any idea, and those that have, instead of insuring their felicity, it too often involves them in a series of misfortunes, either from the perverseness of fortune, the disapprobation of friends, or the unworthiness, and desertion of the object in whom all their earthly happiness was centered. – ’Tis hard that the best affections of the human heart should so often be productive of misery. But perhaps ’tis wisely ordered so, lest immersed in the enjoyments of sublunary felicity, we should forget the all bounteous donor, and having no wish beyond the present, neglect preparation for that awful moment when time [f. 159] shall be lost in eternity. –
Your letter breathes the warmest affection, and at the same time the most refined delicacy – Act up to those sentiments, and I shall always meet you with an heart felt pleasure, from a consciousness that you merit my utmost tenderness and confidence. – Endeavor not to take advantage of my partiality3 in your favor, by freedoms which I dare not allow, and that are not consistent with the delicacy I owe to my sex, and character, and which I am sure you would expect in the woman to whom you wish to be united – tell me sincerely, should you not. There have been some little improprieties in your conduct lately, that I wish to check you for – but with gentleness – I could not bear the idea of treating you with severity, least I should offend instead of reform; but let not the mildness of my reproofs give you cause to suspect their reality – I wish to convince you of your faults by remonstrances, not chiding; from a conviction that such methods will have more influence on a generous mind, such a mind as my Eccles possesses.
Parting with Mrs Collier, has left a depression on my spirits which I cannot shake off – She is certainly the most amiable of women – her tenderness to me has been unbounded – never shall I be able to repay half the obligations I owe her – she has treated me with a more than parental affection – I shall ever love her with the warmest, the [f. 160] most animated friendship – You must let her share my heart. –
“Soft love! sweet friendship! tender pleasing themes;”5
There can be no pleasure but where the soul is concerned – how uninteresting is the world to those minds who partake of the celestial fire, who are sensible to the powers of nature and soft affection.
“Let hearts of steel their cold sensations boast,
And triumph6 in stupidity of mind;
That man is blest, whom love inspires the most,
And he’s accurst, who acts the most unkind.7
By love, I do not mean it in that limited8 sense in which it is generally understood, but an exalted friendship, a union of soul’s which can subsist equally between those of the same sex, as the opposite – such a love as at this moment glows in my heart to Mrs Collier, and to yourself! – How happy am I in my friends, how proud of them – while they continue to love their Maria, they shall ever find her
Friday morning Sepr 10th 1779.
1 Brooks, Correspondence 103-04; Wedd, Love Letters 79.
2 Lines taken from Nicholas Rowe's tragedy, Ulysses (1706), Act III, scene 1. The opening line actually reads, "Oh Love, how are thy precious, sweetest Minutes."
3 Passage adapted from Brooke, Emily Montague, 3.162-63.
4 partiallity] MS
5 Source unknown.
6 tryumph] MS
7 Source unknown.
8 limitted] MS